Experts Tackle Metadata Madness

By Chris Tribbey

March 26, 2014 – Los Angeles, last December in Tampa, Fla., families waiting to watch Disney’s PG animation Frozen were reportedly shown a trailer for the NC-17-rated film Nymphomaniac.

That’s a disaster for everyone involved, from filmmaker to distributor. And it’s something that probably could have been avoided with better metadata, according to Craig Seidel, VP of distribution technology for studio-funded tech research company MovieLabs.

“The system, the process for dealing with metadata, wasn’t there,” said Seidel, speaking March 25 at the inaugural Metadata Madness conference. “The [projectionist], who’s probably 19, looking at it, didn’t have the information in front of him.”

Seidel — who’s been working with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, the Entertainment Merchants Association and other groups on establishing metadata standards for digital content — was one of more than two dozen metadata experts who tackled what’s become both an opportunity and a problem for the entertainment industry.

Better metadata means better marketing opportunities, speakers agreed. It also means a major investment in resources.

The concept of comprehensive metadata for entertainment content seems simple, yet the execution is difficult, Metadata Madness speakers agreed. Offering every bit of information for every piece of content sounds great in concept. But who’s responsible for adding that data? The production team? The distributor?

“When we look at what it means to be a data-driven studio, it’s looking at data during the entire lifecycle [of content],” said J.R. Yasgur, SVP of global data strategy and operations for Sony Pictures Entertainment. That means keeping metadata in mind from the moment a project gets the green light to years after it’s lived out its initial home entertainment life, she said.

But that may not be possible, according to Alex Grimwade, SVP of TV production information technology for 20th Century Fox Television.

“There’s little effort put into metadata during production [of content],” he said. So much initial effort — both traditionally and today — is put into getting content out the door, that adding metadata detail of the content isn’t on the radar. And while locking down metadata during production is akin to hitting “a moving target,” that needs to change, Grimwade said: “We need to capture information at the front door.”

“You can’t collect enough metadata,” agreed Todd Burke, principal solutions engineer for Adobe. “And you never know how you’re going to use it.”

Don Dulchinos, executive director of the Entertainment Identifier Registry (the nonprofit industry group tasked with assigning unique, digital IDs for movies and TV programs) noted that part of the difficulty in locking down relevant metadata is the constantly changing landscape of distribution. Because there isn’t a universal standard, it’s hard for stakeholders to know what — and when — metadata should be addressed.

With or without an industry standard on what to do with content information and how to share it, MovieLabs’ Seidel has a simple suggestion for content owners: address every data possibility early on with every project, despite the hassle.

“Metadata is the silent piece that hides behind [content],” Seidel said. “[Metadata results in] better marketing by knowing what’s in a media file.”

As serious as metadata may be for the future of the media and entertainment industry, the Metadata Madness event struck a light-hearted tone, centered around a March Madness college basketball theme. Presenters were introduced as coaches, panelists as players. Every presentation (“Technical Time-Outs,” One-on-Ones,” “Nothing but Net”) had an NCAA theme. Each speaker was given a Gatorade bottle instead of a glass of water.

Guy Finley, executive director of MESA, opened the conference singing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” (with attendees dutifully standing up and joining in). Whistles were blown and buzzers sounded when a panel’s time was up. During the “halftime” break, a basketball-shooting contest was held, and Hollywood’s best and brightest were encouraged to grab a pretzel and a beer.

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About MESA
The Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) was founded in 2008 to create efficiencies in the creation, production and distribution of physical and digital media & entertainment. Representing over 100 member companies worldwide, the organization produces events, newsletters, research, and journal publications. Its industry initiatives include workgroups in digital and physical supply chain, 2nd screen, IT, content protection and anti-piracy. MESA is the management company responsible for the efforts of the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA), the Hollywood IT Society (HITS) and the 2nd Screen Society. For more information, please visit